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By U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa / U.S. Sixth Fleet Public Affairs
In cemeteries and landmarks throughout Europe, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) leadership attended U.S. Memorial Day ceremonies, held throughout the May 26-29 weekend.
In France, Adm. Stuart B. Munsch, commander of NAVEUR-NAVAF and Allied Joint Force Command Naples; Rear Adm. Oliver Lewis, Director of Maritime Operations for NAVEUR-NAVAF; and Rear Adm. Brad Collins, commander of Navy Region Europe, Africa, Central, attended ceremonies in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Normandy American Cemetery and Somme American Cemetery, respectively.
In Italy, Vice Adm. Thomas E. Ishee, commander of U.S. Sixth Fleet and Rear Adm. Calvin Foster, vice-commander of U.S. Sixth Fleet, attended ceremonies in the Florence American Cemetery and Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, respectively.
Memorial Day, first widely observed on May 30, 1868 to commemorate the fallen in the Civil War, has stood as a day of remembrance, mourning, and ceremony throughout the years.
After World War I, the ceremonial day came to encompass the fallen in all American wars. With exception to the American Civil War, the American deaths in World War II were greater than all other U.S. wars combined. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines,and Airmen laid down their lives and came to rest in cemeteries built on their campaign trail throughout Europe.
The largest offensive in U.S. military history, the Meuse-Argonne offensive, was the deadliest battle in the history of the U.S. Army. It resulted in more than 26,277 American lives lost - many of whom are now buried at the nearby cemetery. Munsch, while commemorating the fallen of Meuse-Argonne offensive, highlighted the historic nature of it all.
"Today we gather at cemeteries and monuments, on watch and at-sea, to both mourn and celebrate our fallen brothers and sisters-in-arms," said Munsch." To mourn those who gave their lives for our great nation, and to celebrate the cause in which they gave it, the freedom they preserved. The story of the United States is one built upon the shoulders of those who have come before. We could not be where we are - who we are - without their ultimate sacrifice. Amidst the ever-present global security challenges we face today, we must continue to carry on the legacy of those who have gone before us."
More than 1,000 km away lies the Florence American Cemetery, its landscape dotted with white headstones memorializing the more than 4,400 service members who fell while liberating Italy during World War II. Surrounded by what was near-constant battle during the Northern Campaign, the location was chosen for its central location to the 20 temporary cemeteries built near it during the flurry of World War II. Within the cemetery lies the Wall of the Missing - 1,409 names carved into its face, names of those whose bodies were never recovered.
"As we stand here today, on the more than 70 acres that the Florence American Cemetery covers, we remember the heroism of the men and women that lie here, and we remember their courage and selflessness in preserving the freedoms we enjoy today," said Ishee. "Now, over 70 years later, the ideals of freedom, democracy, peace and humanity are being threatened once again, but the NATO Alliance stands ready to deter aggression and defend the security in Europe."
June 6 will mark 79 years since Operation Overlord in Normandy - the largest seaborne assault in human history encompassing more than 6,000 allied ships carrying 1 million soldiers across the English Channel to occupied France. Lewis, speaking from a podium overlooking the graves that cross-hatch the Normandy American Cemetery, emphasized how Memorial Day is not solely about mourning the past - it is about commemorating and realizing the extraordinary hope the fallen had for the future.
"As we pay tribute to our fallen, whether on these shores or across the countless fields of battle in Europe, mourn them with all your heart," said Lewis. "But celebrate their hope with all your soul, for it's their hope that lives on. On these fields, in our capitols, in the very soul of all our people, their hope in that sacred belief of life and liberty for all was born, raised anew by the generations they left behind. That hope is what unites the NATO alliance today, and continues to bind us tomorrow."
For over 80 years, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) has forged strategic relationships with our allies and partners, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability.
Headquartered in Naples, Italy, NAVEUR-NAVAF operates U.S. naval forces in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) areas of responsibility.
U.S. Sixth Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.